Salazar Announces Finalization of Soboba Tribal Water Rights Settlement, Triggering Release of $21 million Benefiting Reservation and California's San Jacinto River Basin Communities

Settlement fulfillment promotes economic development, brings certainty in water supplies for districts serving more than 18.5 million people

Last edited 09/05/2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced $21 million in federal funding under the Soboba of Luiseño Indians Settlement Act, marking the final step in an historic water rights settlement and fulfilling promises made to the Soboba Band and southern California communities when the Act was approved by Congress in 2008. The implementation of the settlement is expected to stabilize water supplies in the region and enhance economic development opportunities for the Band and its neighboring communities.

“Today we bring to a close more than 150 years of conflict and decades of litigation between the Soboba Band and neighboring communities over the San Jacinto River Basin's limited water resources,” said Secretary Salazar. “Thanks to collaboration among the Band, the water districts and the U.S. government, the funds we are releasing today will have a real, lasting impact when it comes to a secure water supply and spurring economic development for the Soboba nation and the neighboring communities.”

Disputes and litigation over the water resources date back to the late 1800's with multiple non-Indian water diversion from the San Jacinto River and the construction into the 1930's of the San Jacinto tunnel, a component of the Colorado River Aqueduct that transports water from the Colorado River to southern California. Years of growth in the region – which now serves over 18.5 million Californians – drastically affected groundwater supplies relied upon both by Band and the local communities of Hemet and San Jacinto.

The water rights settlement resolves longstanding disputes by providing the Soboba Band with quantified water rights and assurances of water supplies for its 6,000-acre reservation, as well as establishes a framework for regional water management that will help to restore groundwater levels and prevent ongoing overdrafts of this important basin.

Publication of yesterday's Federal Register notice releases more than $11 million to cover the Band's costs for important water and sewer infrastructure on its reservation.

The action also makes $10 million held in the San Jacinto Basin Restoration Fund available to two neighboring water districts - Lake Hemet Municipal Water District and Eastern Municipal Water District - for a groundwater restoration and recharge project. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is also a party to the settlement, will provide much of the water needed for the project, a total of 7,500 acre-feet of imported water each year until at least 2035. The provisions for recharge of the San Jacinto River Basin aquifer, which could not have been achieved through litigation, will also enable the development of thousands of acres of residential and commercial land.

“This funding gets a fair resolution on Indian water rights over the finish line,” said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and I'm pleased that we can now begin a new chapter on water in this region – one marked by certainty, restoration and economic activity.”

Under the Act, the Soboba Band receives an adequate and secure future water supply (9,000 acre-feet per year); $18 million from the water districts for economic development; and 128 acres of land near Diamond Valley Lake for commercial development.

In addition to the federal funding for the aquifer recharge project, Soboba's neighboring communities will receive up to 100 acres of Soboba reservation land for endangered species habitat and up to 4,900 acre-feet of Soboba water for 50 years for basin restoration.

Salazar's announcement comes in advance of the third White House Tribal Nations Conference happening Friday, December 2nd at the Department of the Interior. The conference will bring together leaders from the 565 federally recognized tribes to hear from President Obama and to build upon the President's commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal nations.


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